Bava Batra 5

Surrounded on all sides.

Let’s say Reuven owns a parcel of land which is surrounded on three sides by land owned by Shimon. According to the mishnah on yesterday’s daf, if Shimon builds a partition between the two parcels, Reuven is not required to contribute to the cost of construction. The Gemara has a lengthy discussion about Reuven’s obligation to reimburse Shimon if either one of them builds a partition on the fourth side. Since the network of partitions provides Reuven’s property with protection, it concludes that there are many situations in which the construction of the fourth wall obligates Reuven to contribute to the cost of the other three. 

Today’s page opens with a narrative about a similar case, with one key difference:

Ronya (had a field that was) surrounded by Ravina on all four sides. 

Ravina said to him: “Give me in accordance with what I spent when I built the partitions,” but Ronya did not give it to him. 

Ravina said: “Give me in accordance with a (reduced assessment of) the price of reeds.” Ronya did not give it to him. 

Ravina said: “Give me the wage of a watchman.” He did not give this to him.

Seemingly aware of the conversation on yesterday’s daf, Ravina demands that Ronya help him pay for the cost of erecting partitions around his fields. When Ronya refuses to pay half the construction costs, Ravina asks for half the cost of the cheapest fence that could have been built (out of reeds). When Ronya refuses again, he asks for what Ronya would have paid a watchman to guard his parcel of land, as the partition provides the same security. Ronya refuses again. So Ravina changes tactics:

One day, Ronya was harvesting dates. Ravina said to his sharecropper: “Go take a cluster of dates from him.” The sharecropper went to bring them, but Ronya raised his voice at him. Ravina said to him: “You have revealed that you are pleased (with the partitions and the protection that they provide you).”

Ravina sends one of his workers to take some dates from Ronya’s land. Ronya takes the bait and shoos the worker away. Gotcha, says Ravina — not only do you benefit from the fence, but you are happy it is there because it keeps people from eating your dates. While this might have been news to Ronya, it’s not for us, since we learned yesterday that if the owner of a surrounded field is happy about the partition built around their property, he must pay for it. 

But Ronya still refuses to pay and Ravina takes him to court, where Rava adjudicates the case:

Rava said to Ronya: “Go appease Ravina with what he expressed he can be appeased with (that is, the wage of a watchman).”

The opening pages of Bava Batra establish that there are situations in which a person can be compelled to pay for the construction of a partition from which they benefit. This case is no exception. Since Ronya benefits from the barrier that separates his property from his neighbor, he must share in the burden of paying for it. And because Ronya demonstrated that he is pleased that the partition was built because he shooed away the workman, Rava is prepared to rule that he must pay for half. But before issuing his judgment, Rava advises Ronya to settle the case for the cost of a watchman, a much lower sum.

Rava’s advice might be win-win: Ravina gets what he last asked for and Ronya pays less then he would have to if Rava issued a formal judgment. Yet it’s odd that a judge would step in and give advice that clearly gives Ravina less than he deserves. 

While the law is on Ravina’s side, perhaps the judge does not approve of his conduct because he resorted to trickery. Although Rava still expects Ronya to pay, Rava may have also wanted to give Ravina a slap on the wrist for his tactics by reducing the amount he can recover. 

Read all of Bava Batra 5 on Sefaria.

This piece originally appeared in a My Jewish Learning Daf Yomi email newsletter sent on June 30, 2024. If you are interested in receiving the newsletter, sign up here.

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